NASA's Mars rover Opportunity has reached its next destination — a valley called Perseverance, where the long-lived robot will scour the surface for clues about how the vast crevice formed.
Opportunity arrived at Perseverance Valley — an ancient feature that extends about two football fields down from the western rim of the 14-mile-wide (22 kilometers) Endeavour Crater — on May 4, according to a statement from NASA. Images taken by the rover so far provide an up-close view of the area that could not have been captured by satellites in orbit above Mars, agency officials said.
"The science team is really jazzed at starting to see this area up close and looking for clues to help us distinguish among multiple hypotheses about how the valley formed," Opportunity project scientist Matt Golombek, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in the statement. [13 Years On Mars! NASA Opportunity Rover Still Rolling (Video)]
Researchers theorize that Perseverance Valley formed billions of years ago through processes of erosion involving wind, water or a "debris flow in which a small amount of water lubricated a turbulent mix of mud and boulders," NASA officials said in the statement.
Rover team members will use images captured by Opportunity to look for variations in the texture and composition of the terrain as the six-wheeled robot travels down through the valley. Such work will help researchers better understand how and when the valley formed, and possibly reveal new clues about Mars' watery past.
Opportunity will begin investigating the area by taking sets of images from two widely separated points at a dip in the crater’s rim, which will provide an "extraordinarily detailed three-dimensional analysis of the terrain," NASA officials said in the statement.
This vantage point will help the rover team chart a safe course for Opportunity to travel through the valley. However, before venturing into Perseverance Valley, the rover will explore the top of the valley, west of the crater rim, according to the statement.
Opportunity has been investigating various sites along Endeavour's rim since August 2011. Before reaching Perseverance Valley, the rover spent 2.5 years exploring a rim segment called Cape Tribulation.
Since landing on Mars in January 2004, Opportunity has driven a total of 27.8 miles (44.7 km) — farther than any other vehicle has ever traveled on a world beyond Earth.